(5 minute read)
Ask an employee at each of 100 top global companies, “What are your organization’s top strategic goals?” and you’ll probably be on the receiving end of 100 puzzled glances—or shrugged sets of shoulders.
Denise A. Harrison, a consultant with Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., sums up how she felt when she first learned that the employees of her financial services firm weren’t on the same strategic page as company managers.
“Thoroughly discouraged,” she remembers, although circumstances seemed to indicate otherwise. “For the past two years I had been president of a financial services firm and we had some key success metrics under our belt, the company was now solidly profitable, cycle time had decreased by 60%, (and) we had earned more this past year than in the past decade.”
The problem? Harrison and her Human Resources Director had just received responses to a recent employee survey, and they were bothered by consistent answers of “No” to the following two questions:
- Are you familiar with the company’s strategy?
- Do you know what you need to do in your position to move the company forward?
To find out how the company had failed to properly convey its “big-picture” strategy, Harrison and her team reviewed how it had been previously communicated to employees.
Talking the Talk Isn’t Enough
Each year, Harrison and her management team kicked off the first quarter with a company-wide meeting, during which she presented to the entire staff the strategy — and key objectives — the company’s senior development team had outlined for the next three years. They solicited feedback in question-and-answer sessions after each presentation.
In addition, two days were set aside each quarter for smaller group meetings, in which customers felt more open to speak up than company wide settings. Strategic goals and key objectives were reiterated, and quarterly progress was charted. Even then, says Harrison, “employees did not relate their day-to-day reality with the strategy.”
Obviously, something had to be done—something to engage employees at all levels to begin thinking strategically. Finally, the management team had an idea: What if each department was empowered to proactively consider their respective role within the overall strategy and develop its own set of objectives to help support it?
Communicating Strategy is a Two-Way Street
In the next year’s company wide kickoff meeting, the three-year strategy and key objectives were again conveyed, but instead of the usual Q&A session, the meeting ended with a challenge to each of the company’s departments to present, in an upcoming monthly meeting, ”what it intends to do in the next year to support the company strategy and move the company forward.”
Business as usual came to an abrupt halt. “There was a flourish of activity in all departments preparing for the next meeting,” Harrison recalls, “Each department looked forward to its chance to show its importance to the rest of the company.”
Each department was asked to select a spokesperson and respond to six questions in the upcoming meeting:
- What are we doing that moves the company forward?
- Is there anything we are not doing that we should be doing?
- Is there anything that needs more emphasis?
- Is there anything that we should stop doing?
- What is required from us from other departments for them to accomplish what they need to do to move the company forward?
- How can we enlist the support from other departments to help us achieve our goals and objectives?
The post-meeting results showed just how effective the new procedure had been. Employees knew the company strategy. Each associate knew exactly what he or she could contribute to help move the company forward. And the ideas created in the departments were far better than the direction the management team could have ever provided.
Harrison offers a 4-step series of guidelines for evaluating and communicating your company’s strategic vision:
1. Review your strategy : Review the corporate strategy, goals and objectives, ensuring that associates understand “the big picture.”
2. Analyze your situation : Hold a team meeting for each department to review the corporate strategy, goals, and objectives.
– Ask the department who its customers are: internal and external?
– What are the needs and preferences of different customer groups or constituents?
– What are the technology issues?
– Are there any supplier issues?
– Are there any issues driven by the economy?
– Are there any regulatory issues?
– What are the departments’ strengths and weaknesses?
– What new opportunities could the department pursue?
3. Develop departmental objectives: What are the 3-5 most important projects for the department to complete in the next 9-12 months?
How do these objectives support the overall corporate strategy? If they do not, should they be departmental objectives?
4. Plan and implement: Develop action plans for each objective.
– Are you dependent on any other department to achieve any of the objectives?
– Get approval to move forward with the objectives.
Her advice? “Developing a strategy will help your company optimize its future. Ensuring that the whole company is aligned with corporate strategy will help you achieve corporate goals and objectives in a shorter time frame.”
Louise Axon, Senior Vice President of The Forum Corp., summarizes how employees eventually “internalize” a company’s strategy, aligning it with their own personal core values:
“As employees come to understand the company’s strategy and how it applies to what they do,” he writes, “they also come to understand how what they do impacts the corporate strategy. That realization empowers them to think creatively, recognize new opportunities and take appropriate risks. But leaders and their charges are not left to their own devices to take risks and fail. They are supported through coaching, mentoring and peer relationships that encourage new ideas, allow appropriate risk-taking and improve the possibility of success. Employees learn to lead, and by leading, they learn.”
For more information about engaging employees and communicating your company’s strategy, or if you’re interested in help with developing an effective workplace survey to identify strengths and weaknesses in your organization, contact us today!